Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Media: Why "The Blacklist" Is My Favorite TV Show These Days

(Drivebycuriosity) - My favorite TV show these days is "The Blacklist" (imdb). The crime drama sets itself apart from similar TV series because of its leading (fictional) character: Raymond "Red" Reddington. This is a former government agent turned high-profile criminal, who had voluntarily surrendered to the FBI, offering to cooperate on capturing a list of criminals who are virtually impossible to catch - the "Black List". (wikipedia). The episodes, which at least meet the level of "Criminal Minds" and other shows, focus on the hunt for persons on this list.

"Red" impresses not only by his high intellectuality, knowledge and connections to the criminal world;  he radiates a philosophical and zen-like calmness blended with a dry humor. "Red" is a Buddha of the criminal world, constantly confabulating and entertaining with lots of amusing anecdotes. The character is hedonistic and sophisticated, which reminds me a bit of "Hannibal Lecter" ("Silence of the Lambs") , but without this villain`s vice and bad eating habits.  "Red" might be amoral, but he is fair and honest.

I indulge in the performance of James Spader as "Red". I had already enjoyed his acting in the movies  "Crash" (1996, imdb) and  "Secretary" (2002, imdb). The actor impressed by his agile facial expressions which let the audience witness how his character is mastering his own weaknesses and tics. "Blacklist" shows how Spader has advanced these techniques since then. Now his face is a theater stage by its own. Spader´s slow and articulated way of speaking strengthens this performance.

"Blacklist" has one weakness: The production is as prudish as the typical US family friendly TV Show. I would prefer the erotical liberality which I enjoy in HBO shows like "Boardwalk Empire".

Nobody is perfect.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Contemporary Art: Governors Island Art Fair 2014

(Drivebycuriosity) - Visiting art fairs belongs to my favorite activities. Yesterday I took the 5 minutes ferry ride from Manhattan to Governors Island, a tiny island close to Manhattan`s south peak. There was the Governors Island Art Fair 2014 (4heads.org).

The hosts had chosen  100 artists and gave each of them one room to display their works. The result was a huge variety of surprising ideas.

My favorite is an installation by Sabrina Barrios (sabrinabarrios) called: "How to Build a Pyramid - Part II: Understanding the Connections to Constellation". She filled a room with a set of threads (picture on top of this post). This construction looks like a huge (dangerous) spider web. The room is kept in dark, but the threads are illuminated by black light.

I was also fascinated by an installation by Hao Ni (haoishao), called "Night II" : I saw a mysterious glass box, illuminated from outside, where drops of a liquid were running down threads. The catalog explains: "Mineral oil on monofilament, resin on various fabrics, car headlights embedded in wall, and other mixed media".

One room has a collection of bizarre elaborated constructed items which are connected through a systems of tubes. The steampunk installation has even some living gerbils (looks like a mouse wikipedia) in it. The catalog names Mikel Glass & Daniel Baltzer (baltzerglass) as the creators and calls the work "Coherence" (mixed media kinetic installation).

Another room had an installation which looked like a part of a jungle. I believe this work is by Ashley Rodiguez Reed (ashleyrodriguezreed).

There also were a lot video installations, some of them mesmerizing, which can not been shown here.

I also saw some paintings. Some were abstract (here: "Apparatus Transport System" by April Zanne Johnson aprilzannejohnson),

others showed some kind of jokes like Antonia Andrioti`s "Pinkcops" (antoniaandrioti).

The exhibtion also had the typical nudes which seem to belong to every art show. Above this paragraph you can see works by Ajama Kojo (ajamukojo) and Rebecca Sutton.  The ladies in violet, red and blue are by Alice Sfintesco (alicesfintesco).

And there also was a horse in one room, which reminds me that contemporary art often comes with some humor.

I plan to go there again if they continue the event next year.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Food: Pasta A La Spinaci & Pomodoro

(Drivebycuriosity) - The best things in life are often very simple. This also is true for one of my favorite dishes: Pasta A La Spinaci & Pomodoro.

I start with chopping garlic, usually 5 gloves and more. They go into a pan with heated olive oil where they get fried till they look glassy. Then I cover the slightly fried garlic with tomatoes. I use a can of peeled tomatoes which I chop into smaller pieces, but I keep the rest of the tomato juice in the can.

Then I stir tomatoes & garlic with a spatula till they marry to a thick sauce. This mixture I sprinkle generously with black pepper and a bit of salt - and a minute later a bit with hot red pepper. A let the blend simmer for 2 minutes, then I add generously minced basil.

After 2 minutes more I cover the sauce with baby spinach fresh from the grocery. I wait around 1 minute then I pour the rest of the tomato sauce from the can onto the spinach and start stirring spinach with the sauce.

Parallel to this I bring a pot of slightly salted water to cook. I drop about a handful pasta, usually Linguini Fini from Italy, into the boiling water and cook the noodles till they are "al dente", around 8 minutes.

I put the ready noodles on a plate and pour the sauce over it. Finally I cover the dish with gratenated Italian Parmesan cheese.

Bon app├ętit. 

Btw. The recipe also functions with broccoli

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Culture: Street Art - What`s Going On In Lower Manhattan - September 2014 Edition

(Drivebycuriosity) -  Manhattan is not only a global center for finance & media, the island is also a gigantic open air museum for street art. Almost any day some new mural, graffiti or other image pops up, especially in the downtown area. Since my latest street art report from August 2014 (driveby) I found a lot new works on the streets of Soho, East Village and Lower East Side.

I especially enjoyed these 2 humorous and sexy stencils above which I found on a house wall at 3rd Street in the East Village.

There are also some nice new murals in the Lower East Side. Below you can see 2 of the ubiquitous skeletar murals by street artist Bradley Theodore that I found on Ludlow Street and on Kenmare Street. My favorite in this collection is Lucky Cheng`s fancy lady above. According to "New York Magazine" Lucky Cheng is a restaurant "better known for its cross-dressing waitstaff than its cuisine" (nymag). I also enjoy seeing the "rat boy" by Brooklyn`s street artist Tino Razo.

There are more stencils of course. Some defy the American puritanism, others are more on the surrealistic side. And Steve Jobs is not forgotten.

The funny street art below I found in the Tompkins Square Park in the East Village.

Let the pictures speak for themselves.


Stock Market: Today´s Lecture

(Drivebycuriosity) - Today we got another lecture how the stock market works. In the morning we learned that US factory orders grew 0.6% (excluding volatile air craft orders) in August and that the weekly jobless claims stayed below the mark of 300.000. Both numbers are more signs that the US economy is sound and growing in a solidly pace.

But nevertheless,  US stocks tanked. The S&P 500, the gauge for the US stock market, lost 1.6%, the Nasdaq, which represents technology, dipped 1.9%.

The discrepancy between stock market and fundamental news today is a reminder that we have to separate between long term and short term. Since spring 2009 US stocks climbed around 200%, mirroring the advancing economy. In the long run the fundamentals rule.

But in short term the stock market often ignores the fundamental facts. In short term the stock market is ruled by gamblers like hedge funds and other speculators.

Those players don´t give a rat´s ass for the fundamentals. They have are very short time horizon. Most hedge funds and other speculators are just making bets on the very near future.

Hedge fund managers are known for their herding behavior. They seem to buy and sell the same stocks, at the same time, and track each other's investment strategies, reports the Wall Street Journal (hedgetracker).

It seems that many hedge fund managers sold today just because their colleagues were selling. As usual on those days they behave like a herd of cows that gets in panic and runs in a stampede when lightning strikes.

Maybe they made bets that the majority will sell more in the coming days which could send the stocks lower. Maybe they let their computer programs do the trading. Then the computers sold because the market went down (sell tricker). This leads to the usual snow ball effect: Selling trickers more selling.

What we experienced today was just a lot of noise - a phenomena of mass psychology & weird herding behavior - and will soon be forgotten.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Contemporary Art: Jeff Koons - A Retrospective @ Whitney Museum, New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - Jeff Koons is one of the most influential,  most talked about and highest priced living artists, a rock star of the art world. Now you can get the "full Koons". New York´s Whitney Museum has a huge exhibition, called "Jeff Koons: A Retrospective" (whitney). They show the works of the artist`s full career so far on 4 floors.

"Throughout his career, Koons has pioneered new approaches to the readymade, tested the boundaries between art and mass cuture, and challenged the limits of industrial fabrication in works of great beauty and emotional intensity", claim the curators.

The NewYork show runs through October 19, 2014. The exhibition travels to the Centre Pompidou,  Paris (November 26, 2014–April 27, 2015) and to the Guggenheim Bilbao (June 5–September 27, 2015).

My wife and I went there (945 Madison Avenue at 75th Street, Manhattan) on a Friday afternoon to avoid the masses and the school classes. We could indeed enjoy the exhibition relatively undisturbed. On Friday evenings you should calculate with lines, because then admission will be free, otherwise they charge $20 (students and seniors $16).

We were impressed how elobarate the displayed pieces are. Koon`s works are usually very expensive to produce. Like Andy Warhol before (Factory) and now Damien Hirst, he employes often more then 100 assistants in his studio and works with a lot of companies to get his ideas realized. Therefore the artist needs investors who are willing to risk millions of dollars for his projects. This got Koons into some crises in the past, but as the Whitney exhibition and record high auction sales prices proof ( totaling $177 million over the past year), the artist is back again. Vanity Fair has a lengthy article about the highs and depths of Koons`career (vanityfair).

                                                                     Woman in Tub

Koons is a "controversial" artist and likes to provoke. The Whitney show has many examples for that.

My favorite provocation is the "Woman in Tub" (1988, Porcelain) below, who is usually at home at the Art Institute Chicago. According to Koons himself: “There’s a snorkel and somebody is doing something to her under the water because she’s grabbing her breasts for protection. But the viewer also wants to victimize her.” (artic).

Koons holds the world record for "the most expensive work by a living artist sold at auction" (wikipedia). On November 12, 2013, Koons’s Balloon Dog (Orange) sold at Christie`s auction in New York for $58.4 million. The Whitney shows another piece of the "Ballon Dog" series, the "Ballon Dog (Yellow)"(below). This is one of five unique versions, each in a different color.

On the first sight the sculpture looks like an inflated air baloon, but it isn`t. The piece is "mirror-polished stainless steel with transparent color couting" and weighs around one ton! Koons worked with a spezialized foundry in California to cast and finish the sixty seperate precison-engineered, stainless steel parts. According to the museum "Koons imparted Balloon Dog (Yellow) with an air of innocent playfulness as well as elements that suggest sexual orifices and protuberances."

The exhibtion pieces make clear that Koons is a perfectionist. The artist is famous for his "laserlike routing of imperfection" (telegraph). He destroys pieces he’s been working on for two years because the paint has dried funny.

The sculpture below is called "Play-Doh". The piece looks indeed like a huge pile made of the educational modelling compound which children use to shape things. But this version is made from polychromed aluminum. Like the Balloon Dog, this piece is one of five unique versions. Surprisingly this art work is "one of the most complex sculptures Koons has ever made, requiring to decades to fabricate."

                                                       Aphrodite riding a dolphin

Below are works from Koon´s "Antiquity" series. There he used famous ancient or classical sculptures, meticulously rendered in oil paint and scaled to the same size as the sculptures.

The first painting (from above) is called: "Antiquity 3" (oil on canvas). As the curators explain, "the central image is based on a photograph Koons shot from the actress Gretchen Mol (imdb) posing as the 1950s pin-up star Bettie Page. Ringged by classical statues and riding an inflatable dolphin, she represents a contemporary Aphrodite, the Greek godess of love, whom the ancients often depicted astrided the dolphin that delivered her from the sea".

Below you can see more images from the "Antiquity" series, including the "Metallic Venus" , which was made of high chromium stainless steel with transparent color coating and live flowering plants.

Below a glance on another series: Hulk Elvis. The Whitney shows "Hulk (Organ)" which is made from polychromed bronze and mixed media. According to the curators, the organ, which is functioning, "is a masculine symbol, not only because of its explosive phallic pipes, but also because it is know as ´the king of instruments". They call the whole sculpture "a paragon - and perhabs also parody - of machismo".

                                                                Optical Illusions

Below another example for Koon´s optical illusions. The piece, called "Dogpool (Panties),  looks like a children´s toy made of inflatable rubber. But in reality it is made from "polychromed aluminium, acrylic, chromogenic print, and coated steel chain", which needed a complicated and expensive production process - typical for Koon´s works. 

The sculpture "Rabbit" (1986, stainless steel) is Koon`s breakthrough into the world of art - and today one of his most famous artworks. This work, which belong to the series "Statuary",  " is the piece that won over previously unconvinced curators, art historians, and critics, who saw it as a dazzling contemporary update of a broad range of iconography, from Playboy Bunnies to Brancusi’s soaring forms", writes Vanity Fair (vanityfair).

The sculpture "Elephant" (2002, mirror-polished stainless steel with transparent color counting) shows how Koon`s techniques and technical knowledge had advanced over the years.

The painting below - "Boy with pony" (Oil on canvas)  - belongs actually to Koon´s "Celebration" series (like the "Balloon Dog" shown above), but I put into the center of this post because I like it there most and I think it fits well to the "Banality" series which follows then on my article.

The picture is also an example for Koon´s works which are in most cases much more sophisticated than they look on the first glance. The curators describe: "The artist began by photographing the toys against a reflective Mylar backdrop. He then broke down the image into thousands of discrete units separated by sinuous contours. This design was transferred to the canvas with the aid of a projector and stencils and filled by his assistants with myriad colors, each carefully distinguished from the next".

                                                   Michael Jackson and Bubbles

Below you can see Koon´s "Banality" series, which fills a whole room in the Whitney building. Here he worked with traditional German and Italian craftsmen who made decorative and religious objects, Koons enlarged his subjects and rendered them in gilt porcelain and polychromed wood, materials more associated with housewares and tchotchkes than contemporary art. In this collection you can find a a gold-leaf plated, a life-sized statue of Michael Jackson and Bubbles, the singer’s pet chimpanzee, Buster Keaton, Saint John the Baptist and more.

                                                               Made in Heaven

The pictures above already signalled that Koon´s seemed to be obsessed with sex. His series "Made in Heaven" is another proof for that. It also shows his narcistic side. By producing these works he "promised nothing less than the emancipation from the shame of sex", tell us the curators. They claim "the work stands not as pornography but an extremely risky and vulnerable form of self-portraiture as well as an enduring experiment in fame".

I start my examples with his "Self-Portrait" (1991, Marble). I like the combination with the background which allows a glance into the museum`s neighborhood. I believe Jeff gained a lot by that.

The following paintings show himself with Illona Staller, a Hungarian-born Italian porn star -  and member of the Italian parlament -, whom he married in 1991. In 1992 they had a messy divorce because Illona decided to go back to Italy and to her porn movie & political career. Koons almost ruined himself by unsucessfully trying to get his son Ludwig back whom Illona had taking back with her to Italy.  

The paintings are called "Jeff in the position of Adam" &"Silver Shoes"                                           
(both 1990 and Oil ink on canvas).   Koons produced these paintings with the help of a Californian      company capable of generating  the largest high-quality, photo-based images possible at the time.       


This small scultpure, made of glass, is called "Violet - Ice (Kama Sutra)"

The paintings below - "Junkyard" (2002, Oil on canvas) and "Bagel" (2002, Oil on canvas) - are more examples for Koon`s elaborate techniques. They belong to his "Easyfun-Ethereal " series. According to the curators, "he began each composition with readymade images, which he grafted onto paper, scanned, and manipulated digitally. To execute each painting, Koons worked with teams of assistants for up to six months, painstakingly transferring his collage to canvas entirely by hand".

The painting "Junkyard displays "images of fishnet stockings, a lacey negligee, and a junkyard intersect and interlock in a kaleidoscopic fashion.
"Bagel" is made in a similar manner. I shot the pictures below from different distances.

Below is a part of the exhibition which irritated me. It belongs to the series "The New", which Koons produced at the begin of his career. There are "pairs of vacuum cleaners stacked in Lucite cases and illuminated with fluorescent lights—commercially manufactured household appliances displayed as if they were holy relics", critizes "The New Criterion" (newcriterion). "In keeping with the avant-garde ethos of the time, Koons here is critiquing society’s habit of turning anything and everything into a salable commodity".

Vanity Fair reports that Koon´s "produced" the pieces as he was working on Wall Street as a commodities broker to make a living and tried to sell them to other brokers. According to this source at least one buyer gave the vaccum cleaner back. Maybe today he will regret that.

The paintings below (each oil on canvas) belong to the series "Luxury and Degration" and address the marketing and consumption of alcohol, say the curators. I admire how accurate Koons - and his assistants - painted the originally photographic produced advertisements.

In the series "Gazing Ball" Koons combined classical elements with everyday objects like a mailbox and gazing balls (hand-blown glass), which you can find on American subburn lawns. The sculpture "Gazing Ball (Farnese Hercules)"(Plaster and glass) refers to one of the most reowned and imposing of all classical sculptures.


                                                       A Boat between Islands?

Here another example for Koon´s technical skills. The sketch below could show a boat between islands and a sunny sky. Or does it.....?

This "Popeye" (Granite and live flowering plants)  "lives" on museums´s tiny pateo.